Chicago Theatre Review
The End of the World Has Arrived
Earthquakes in London – Steep Theatre
There couldn’t be a more timely play than this somewhat bizarre drama by Mike Bartlett, the prolific British playwright who also gave us “Cock” and CST’s recent “King Charles III.” With a do-nothing Congress in power and a newly elected president, who claims that global warming in just a Chinese myth, the message behind Bartlett’s epic drama is especially frightening. The story deals with the final, cataclysmic effects of climate change on the planet. His message, as it was in his earlier play, “Wild,” is one of universal gloom and doom, brought on by the human race’s unwillingness to heed the warnings of science. As audiences sit through more than three hours of surrealistic drama, heading toward an inescapable conclusion, we become overwhelmed by the magnitude of this play.
Jonathan Berry must be given a great deal of credit for his direction of this massive work, that spans from 1968 to 2225. He skillfully moves his large, talented cast, many of whom play multiple roles, on and off the stage with the skill of an air traffic controller. Scenes overlap and blend together seamlessly. Sharp focus and storytelling is always Berry’s top priority and he’s brought a number of excellent performances out his actors. Berry’s vision is supported and enhanced by his skilled creative staff. Scenic designer Arnel Sancianco, working closely with projections designer Joseph A. Burke, lighting designer Brandon Wardell and composer and sound designer Matt Chapman, have created a fluid environment that allows continual movement and transition between locales. More intimate scenes appear from behind the sliding panels of a false proscenium, at one end of the room. The larger, full-cast episodes flow in from the aisles and onto the central acting area. The effect is a like a three-ring circus heading toward its final destiny.
Central to the story is Robert, played as a young man by Nate Faust and in his later life by Jim Poole, an environmental scientist who prophesies the growing dangers of climate change. We initially glimpse Robert on a first date with his future wife, and then intermittently in the meetings where he sells out his findings to the airline industry. As a father, only concerned with the bigger picture, he abandons his three daughters.
Sarah, his eldest, is ironically a governmental minister for the environment. Played with a cool head and a keen eye by Cindy Marker, Sarah’s about to make a big decision about airport expansion in London. She’s married to Colin (nicely played by Alex Gillmor), an unemployed, meek and lonely man who would like only to be a loving husband to his career-driven wife. Robert’s middle daughter, Freya, is portrayed with sadness and poignance by Lucy Carapetyan. While her husband Steve, a likably earnest Nick Hurst, is away “on business” (but actually secretly in search of answers from Robert), Freya stresses over giving birth to her child who’ll inherit a hopeless world. She’s accompanied by talented Amber Sallis who alternately plays a special needs little boy named Peter and Freya’s daughter, Emily. Teenage wild child Jasmine, Robert’s youngest, is played with uninhibited savvy and skill by Sarah Price. She’s a dropout from life who buries her anger and loneliness in hedonistic activities.
Robert says that our planet of six billion inhabitants, capable of housing only a sixth of that population, will soon be balanced out by nature in the coming years. It’s a pronouncement that leaves audiences shaken and filled with angst, especially as we witness the onstage devastation, storms, titular earthquakes and the ultimate destruction of a home that mankind’s ignorance has allowed. This is an epic work, a fatalistic drama, the scale of which might be compared somewhat to the Goodman’s “2666” or the Hypocrites’ “All Our Tragic.” The production, in terms of detail, characters, thematic material and sheer length, isn’t for the fainthearted or those who come to the theatre for light entertainment. But Mike Bartlett’s surreal drama conveys an important message for those contemporary audiences willing to experience it.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 26-March 4 by Steep Theatre Company,
1115 W Berwyn, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-649-3186 or by going to www.steeptheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.